Wildlife activist, Purnima Barman (37), from Assam has been honoured with the prestigious Whitley Award, which is also known as the Oscar for environment or Green Oscar. The award was presented  on May 25 at London’s Royal Geographical Society. Along with the award, she also received £35,000 in project funding.

Princess Anne awarded Barman for her efforts in conserving the lives of the greater adjutant stork (leptoptilos dubius) and the wetlands it inhabits. Barman won from among a list of 166 researchers across 66 countries, according to a statement issued by Whitley Fund for Nature.

In all, six people were selected to receive the honour and not one but two Indians won the award, Sanjay Gubbi also won it for his work in preventing deforestation in Karnataka’s tiger corridors.

The greater adjutant stork is also called ‘Hargila’ in Assam, a word also used for tall and thin people in vernacular Assamese language. It is currently referred to as endangered in the IUCN red list of threatened species.

“Purnima mobilised the Hargila Army, an all-female team of conservationists dedicated to protecting the greater adjutant stork. They are offered sustainable livelihood, training and education opportunities through this programme. The project is giving marginalised women a voice, helping them change local perceptions. The number of stork nests has risen to over 150 from just 30 seven years ago,” the Whitley statement said, reported Hindustan Times.

International Union for Conservation of Nature notes that the world has a total of 1,800 adjutant storks and Assam alone has 800 of them. Bihar comes second as it has about 160 storks.

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Barman works with an NGO called Aaranyak. She faced many challenges when she started her campaign of saving the Hargila in three villages of Guwahati in 2008. But today, people feel the need to save the endangered species and even plant trees for nesting them, which they earlier used to always chop off.

For the Hargila Army, as it’s known in the state, conserving the Hargila has become a motive of life and they observe February 2 as the Greater Adjutant Day. On this day, they like to spread awareness about the storks, which have become such a big part of their life that it has found its place in local handloom products as a popular motif and in the hymns sung at Namghars in the state.

“I dedicate the Whitley Award, the dream of every conservationist, to the villagers who have been working with me to make the world a better place for the greater adjutant. A 19th century ornithologist called the bird a prodigy of ugliness, but few are as beautiful as it is,” Barman said in an email after receiving the award.

The Whitley Fund for Nature of UK holds the awards ceremony every year and gives prize money to activists and researchers as a way of doing charity along with acknowledging the effort of these people in the space of wildlife and conservation.

Picture credit- India Live Today

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